Fotis Filippou, Campaigner in the EU Team and Barbora Cernusakova, Researcher in the EU Team are blogging from Bratislava, Slovakia
We have been in Bratislava, Slovakia since the beginning of the week, in preparation for the launch of the new phase in Amnesty International’s campaign to end segregation of Romani children in Slovak schools.
Thursday, 2 September, marked the beginning of the school year in Slovakia. At 11am we held a press conference in a classroom of a school in the centre of Bratislava.
A metallic fence divided the classroom into two. Signs pointed to the fact that one half was for Roma, the other was for “whites”. As the journalists sat down on either side of the fence we reminded them: “As you are separated in here now, so thousands of Romani children begin the school year sitting in separate, ethnically segregated classrooms”.
Thousands of Romani children are beginning the new school year completely separated from their non-Roma peers, either being placed in special schools and classes for pupils with “mild mental disabilities” or in Roma-only mainstream schools and classes, which offer reduced curricula and limited future opportunities.
On Wednesday, we returned to a Romani community 20km north of Bratislava, which we had visited a few times earlier this year. We met with people who have previously shared their stories with us, and asked them what their expectations are for the new school year.
We met with Jakub, a bright 16-year-old boy, who finished the special class in the local primary school a year ago. He had been transferred to special class when he was in fifth grade, after an argument with a teacher, despite being an excellent student while he was in the normal class.
Jakub always wanted to be a car mechanic; but the certificate he got from the special class does not give him this opportunity. “I’m starting at the special secondary school tomorrow, to become a builder; what else can I do?” he told us with disappointment.
Alena, a Romani mother told us: “It’s going to get worse and worse. I am thinking of putting the kids to a school in another town. My girl is in a Roma-only class. What are they going to teach them in the Roma-only classes? They are locked in there.”
Milan, a Romani father, has this message for the government: “Don’t harm these children, simply because they have a different skin colour.”
Earlier this week we met with government officials to talk about Amnesty International’s concerns and recommendations. We urged them to enforce a ban on discrimination and segregation that has been part of Slovak educational law since 2008 and stick to the commitment to end school segregation of Roma included in the new government coalition’s programme in August this year.
Unfortunately the answer was simple and vague and fell short of any satisfactory and meaningful answer to that end: “We stick to our commitment, but we have not yet had the time to come up with concrete measures”.
In our campaign together with other organizations and individuals we have a long way ahead of us before declarations become reality. We need to keep reminding the Slovak government that people in Slovakia and around the world say “No to discrimination – No to segregation.”
As messages arrive in our inboxes with images from Amnesty International public actions in front of Slovak embassies in Berlin, Brussels and Zagreb, we feel the strength of the movement and that our message is getting stronger and stronger: “Unlock their future – End school segregation of Roma”
Call on the Prime Minister of Slovakia to end the segregation of Romani children in schools (Take Action)
Take part in Amnesty International’s photo petition for Roma children in Slovakia (Photo petition)
Slovak government urged to end segregation for Romani children (News, 2 September 2010)